September 26, 2023
NE States See Mixed Results on Energy Policy
Industry participants gathered at the law offices of Brown Rudnick to hear NECEC provide updates on new energy legislation in all six New England states.

By Michael Kuser

BOSTON — Fifty power industry participants gathered at the law offices of Brown Rudnick on Thursday to hear the Northeast Clean Energy Council (NECEC) provide updates on new energy legislation — or a lack thereof — in all six New England states.

The discussion illustrated the uneven — if not divergent — development of clean energy goals in a region tightly knit together by a common grid.

Here’s some of what we heard.

The Northeast Clean Energy Council held its summer legislative update in Boston on Aug. 1. | © RTO Insider

Frustration in Montpelier

Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said 40% of members in her state’s House of Representatives were new this term, with every committee getting new leadership, which hindered lawmaking.

Olivia Campbell Andersen, REV | © RTO Insider

“We all thought that 2019 would be the year when everyone comes together on climate,” Andersen said. “Throughout the session, both the public and members had high expectations, which were not really met by the leadership, notably” House Speaker Mitzi Johnson.

The legislature’s climate caucus grew, but it was difficult to turn that interest into action with so many new members and “a big learning curve,” she said.

Andersen highlighted “exciting news on the renewable electricity space, with the first expansion of net metering,” but nonetheless she said “we ended the session with a lot of frustration amongst those freshmen members.”

The largely unchanged state Senate didn’t share those challenges, she said.

Sea Change in Maine

Marty Grohman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Technology Council of Maine (E2Tech), a clean energy advocacy group, referred to a “sea change up there in Maine” and said “passivity is not an option.”

Marty Grohman, E2Tech | © RTO Insider

Clean energy issues have come to the fore since Democratic Gov. Janet Mills was elected last fall, said Grohman, a former state legislator.

LD 1711 [An Act To Promote Solar Energy Projects and Distributed Generation Resources] is a really significant piece of legislation that’s going to move the needle in Maine for years to come,” Grohman said. “As a person who has worked in the large rooftop solar industry, there’s a pretty big procurement for commercial and industrial solar here that has a pretty aggressive structure for those types of larger … distribution warehouse, shopping mall-type installations.”

Grohman also highlighted the passage of LD 1430, which clarifies the rules around business equipment and property tax exemptions for renewable energy installations, as well as “a significant reform” of Maine’s renewable portfolio standard.

“There’s lot in the energy efficiency world, too, in Maine,” he said. “We are net receivers in [the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative], so we have some dollars coming in, and that goes to energy efficiency.”

Stranger Things

Former Massachusetts Rep. Dan Bosley, now NECEC’s government relations executive, said it was “a strange year” in Rhode Island.

Dan Bosley, NECEC | © RTO Insider

“First, there were changes in the leadership of the Energy Committee,” Bosley said. “There was a mini speaker fight, and most progressives, which included the energy chair, did not vote for the speaker, and so were replaced with people who did … and there seems to be some tension between the administration and the legislature … which slowed things down.”

NECEC observed a trend of partial progress and consolidation of effort this year around its priorities for the state, Bosley said.

One House of Representatives bill (H5789), for example, pitted clean energy advocates against conservationists who condemned the loss of open green space to solar farms throughout the state.

“The renewable energy siting and land use bill was a comprehensive bill that spun off from the permitting process — how communities want [their own] process, and we wanted one siting process for the entire state,” Bosley said.

“Unfortunately, even though the Senate passed a trimmed-back … version, it wasn’t taken up in the House. The same thing happened with virtual net metering,” he said. “Fortunately, a lot of work has been done, so that when lawmakers return for the second year of the biennium, a lot of these bills will get done.”

‘Veto Palooza’ in New Hampshire

Madeleine Mineau of advocacy group Clean Energy New Hampshire said her state saw the majorities in both legislative chambers flip from Republican to Democrat, but it kept the same governor, Republican Chris Sununu.

Madeleine Mineau, CleanEnergyNH | © RTO Insider

“That’s a little bit of an unusual situation for New Hampshire to have Democratic majorities on the House and Senate, and we are more used to having divided government going the other way around,” Mineau said.

There was enthusiasm to introduce a lot of bills that would pay for renewable energy and efficiency, and her organization tracked about 40 bills this session while keeping an eye on the budget, she said.

The bills covered “a broad array of topics, from our renewable portfolio standard to net metering, low- and moderate-income community solar, municipal aggregation, street lights, energy storage, electric vehicles, energy efficiency and building codes,” Mineau said.

“Some bills made it through, some didn’t, but we are in the middle of veto palooza,” she said. “We’re up to 41 vetoes at this point, and there’s still about 60-ish bills that are making their way to the governor, so we’re expecting more vetoes to come.”

The vetoed bills include HB 365, which would increase the size of projects that can participate in net metering up to 5 MW.

“We went through this last year with Senate Bill 446, which aimed to do the same thing, which was vetoed, and the veto override came short by a handful of votes,” Mineau said. “There was really strong bipartisan support for this bill during the session, so we’re hoping that that means there’s a good chance to have a successful veto override.”

Other vetoed bills include Senate Bill 72, which would eliminate “REC sweeping,” a regulatory loophole that allows electricity producers to sweep up unregistered renewable energy credits without having to pay for them.

energy policy
(Left to right) NECEC President Peter Rothstein speaks to the panel of Jeremy McDiarmid, NECEC; Olivia Campbell Andersen, REV; Marty Grohman, E2Tech; Madeleine Mineau, Clean Energy NH; Dan Bosley, NECEC; and Michael J. Martone, Murtha Cullina. | © RTO Insider

“We have a credit calculated for unregistered RECs that get credited for free to everyone that has an RPS obligation, and it’s really driving down demand, especially for our solar RECs,” Mineau said.

“In past years, the free credit for these unregistered RECs has been bigger than the total obligation, so it’s made it hard to find a buyer for a solar REC in New Hampshire, and if you can, the value is really low,” she said.

Sununu also vetoed SB 168, which would have increased the obligation for solar RECs in the state’s RPS.

The legislature will likely schedule two veto override session days next month, Mineau said.

Lawmakers overrode the veto of a biomass bill last year, which offered three years of support for six biomass electric plants in the state. The measure was then taken to FERC as a violation of the Federal Power Act, where it remains at the moment, she said.

The Bay State Buy

Bosley said that after a slow start, the Massachusetts legislature held 12 hearings related to clean energy bills, but in eight different committees, and NECEC filed testimony on multiple bills.

NECEC is particularly interested in House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s GreenWorks legislation (H3987), which authorizes the state to borrow $1.3 billion and spend $100 million a year over a decade to combat various effects of climate change, particularly in coastal areas.

“The GreenWorks bill is important for several reasons,” Bosley said, including its provisions to spend $100 million for municipal microgrids, $125 million for electrification of municipal fleets and charging infrastructure, $20 million for local sustainability measures, $50 million in low-interest loans for resilience projects, and $30 million for EV rebates.

Peter Rothstein, NECEC | © RTO Insider

The second important bill, S10, provides about $137 million for climate change adaptation infrastructure spending, he said.

“Our advice is to combine the two bills, because a billion dollars doesn’t go as far as you think,” Bosley said.

NECEC President Peter Rothstein said he represented the organization on the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act Implementation Advisory Committee, which is examining all the structures needed to advance aggressive clean energy goals.

Rothstein said the majority of the committee is pushing to have the studies currently underway examine a scenario of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 in addition to the state’s current goal of an 80% reduction by that year, “with the expectation that that’s going to be part of the debate.”

Nutmeg Promises

In Connecticut, HB 5030 would have prevented the sweeping of $50 million from the energy efficiency fund, but it did not pass in the General Assembly session that ended May 5; however, Gov. Ned Lamont committed not to raid the fund, said attorney Michael J. Martone of law firm Murtha Cullina.

Michael J. Martone, Murtha Cullina | © RTO Insider

“The Assembly passed two major pieces of energy legislation, the first of which, HB 5002, started out as the Green New Deal and morphed into the omnibus renewable energy fund,” Martone said.

The bill expanded the virtual net metering cap from $10 million worth of credits to $20 million, extended the outright zero-emission REC two years and called for a study of the use of solar near state highways, he said.

“The most controversial piece of the bill allows the EDCs [electric distribution companies] to own energy storage, and the generation community was absolutely off the charts with this,” Martone said. “It came out at the very last minute. Typically in Connecticut, you have public hearings prior to bills moving forward. This issue did not have a public hearing … and the generators felt that this was allowing the EDCs to get back into generation.”

The legislature saw the difficulty, he said.

“They felt that this was allowing for resiliency, and there was no intent to give the EDCs an open field run,” Martone said, “but the fact of the matter is the section reads: ‘Nothing in this section shall be interpreted to prohibit or limit the ability of an EDC from building, owning or operating an energy storage system.’ So it remains to be seen where this is going to go.”

The most important piece of the bill is its requirement for a study of distributed energy, he said. The tight time frame in the bill calls for the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to get back to the Energy and Technology Committee by July 1, 2020.

“I can’t stress enough that if you do business in Connecticut, this is the road, this is what will determine where we go from here,” Martone said.

The other big piece of legislation, HB 7156, authorizes the state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to procure 2,000 MW of offshore wind by 2030 and requires a solicitation of at least 400 MW this year, he said.

“It’s a fast track,” Martone said, with a request for proposals coming out Aug. 15, bids due Sept. 30 and contracts to be announced in November.

Ambitious Empire

Jeremy McDiarmid, NECEC vice president for policy and government affairs, talked about New York’s new law, the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (A8429), signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo on July 18.

energy policy
Jeremy McDiarmid, NECEC | © RTO Insider

“This bill codifies into statute a number of Gov. Cuomo’s clean energy goals, but it also incorporates a lot of environmental justice commitments that have often not been as prominent in clean energy legislation,” McDiarmid said.

The new law mandates 70% of the state’s electricity be generated by renewable resources by 2030, sets an offshore wind energy goal of 9 GW by 2035, aims to make the electric system carbon-neutral by 2040, doubles distributed solar generation to 6 GW by 2025 and calls for 3 GW of energy storage by 2030. (See Carbon Pricing Study Navigates Shifting NY Landscape.)

“There is a follow-on effect with other states … New York is setting the bar pretty high,” Grohman said.

“Realistically, nothing this ambitious is going to happen in New Hampshire anytime soon,” Mineau said. “The concern would be how much is this going to cost us, and climate science is not a generally accepted fact at our State House. If climate change is mentioned at a hearing, the hearing becomes a debate about whether or not climate change is real.”

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